“I am not in a position to provide her with a clear answer..”

The transcript of yesterday’s events in the Assembly is now online here. Among the various questions to the minister probably the most interesting one, in terms of the points made and the answer given, is this from the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long

Mrs Long: I thank the Minister for Social Development for her statement. I am pleased that she has shown a degree of integrity that was lacking in that area under direct rule. Given that the programme was brought in under direct rule, has the Minister received any assurance from the Northern Ireland Office that those who have, for so long, lectured local representatives to get on with the job for which they were elected, will now respect the Minister’s decision, having made the choice for which she was elected, and will desist from further interfering in the matter?

Ms Ritchie: I thank Mrs Long, a Member for East Belfast, for her support and for her question. However, I very much regret that I am not in a position to provide her with a clear answer. I hope that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Minister Goggins will support me in my decision — and support me publicly — and ensure that any side briefing is stopped.

I want to clear up two things. First, for the benefit of ministerial colleagues and Sinn Féin Assembly Members, I will not be funding the UDA now or in the future. Secondly, for the benefit of my DUP Assembly colleagues, my decision has an entirely robust legal basis. The Departmental Solicitor’s Office has observed that I am behaving entirely legally.

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  • URQUHART

    Excellent work Pete. Although from the nonsense that is swirling around at the moment and being bought by many in the media, it is pretty clear that her hopes of an end to NIO side briefing were ill-founded.

  • URQUHART

    Another good one…

    Mr Attwood: Does the Minister agree that people who have long been silent on this issue have suddenly found their voices in the Chamber? Those people gave advice, the height of which was, “no comment”, when the Minister sought guidance from her Executive colleagues. The people whose advice amounted to “no comment” now have all sorts of advice for the Minister on how she has handled this matter. Does she not find that contradictory and somewhat insulting to the people of Northern Ireland, who have a clear view about how this matter should be handled, unlike members of Sinn Féin and its Ministers in the Executive?

    If Attwood has some way of standing this accusation up, surely this is a major problem for SF?

  • Tkmaxx

    URQHART- What Attwood is getting at is when Ritchie circulated her note in July – no one responded other than OFDFM and that was to say they say no need to take action or table it for Executive – after the violence broke out in August she again circulated her statement to her colleagues for information and while most did not bother replying apparently some SF Ministers sent back the message ‘no comment’. At least that is what I have picked up through the maze

  • interested

    The speaker stated yesterday that the Head of the Civil Service expressed grave concerns about the legality of her decision.

    Where would he have developed those concerns if not after consultation with the Departmental Solicitors office.

    Something just doesn’t add up here…. This story clearly has a long way to go yet.

    Also, isn’t the Departmental Solicitors Office an agency within DFP – maybe that’s why Peter Robinson seems to have knowledge on the whole issue.

    Where are the investigative journalists now?

  • Tkmaxx

    I think you are right this story has more legs – not least of which is likely be an examination of the role of the Head of the Civil Service. Its strange being ‘minded’ of anothers intentions can land one in alot of bother. To under the DSO role its there to give advice. That advice is privileged. ie between the Minister requesting and DSO. Its at the discretion of the Minister to make legal advice known or not. Remember the quandry over the AG advice on going to war.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    interested: “The speaker stated yesterday that the Head of the Civil Service expressed grave concerns about the legality of her decision. ”

    The high mugwump of the bureaucracy having problems with something that disturbs the waters… now there’s a shock.

    Likewise, as it would appear that the Minister received legal advice both internally and externally on the matter before going forward, does the grand poobah of sinecures have a specific grievance, or is this just another bit of blue smoke to throw in front of the DUP’s mirror?

    interested: “Where would he have developed those concerns if not after consultation with the Departmental Solicitors office. ”

    Bureaucrats (and bureaucracies, which NI’s gov’t had been for the better part of almost four decades) do not like changes — the more dramatic the change, the less they like it.

    What is more interesting is that, following the failure of Robinson’s sally, they best they could come up with is the insinuation that what she has done is illegal, which is all that we have at the moment.

  • An Bearnach

    Look carefully at what Robinson said: ”
    The announcement she has made is contrary to a process set out by the Executive, and the decision is not consistent with the advice offered by the Departmental Solicitor’s Office and senior Crown counsel. I believe her decision is also a breach of the ministerial code and the Pledge of Office.” Ritchie makes it very clear that there was no process set out by the Executive, which would not touch the issue with a barge pole. What he seems to be referring to as such a proces is the views and opinion of the secretary to the Executive, the boul’ Nigel Hamilton, head of the Civil Service. Ritchie is entitled to make her decision after weighing all the legal advice she received. She should certainly have been wary of over-reliance on advice from the same quarters that advised Peter Hain to provide funding for a UDA-targeted scheme in the first place. The stuff about codes is patent nonsense. Perhaps he would have preferred if Ritchie had just said she was ‘minded’ to cut the funding.

  • Damien Okado-Gough

    As it was said on another thread earlier, Margaret Richie is playing a blinder on this one. Poots himself said earlier that she will be enjoying the support of the vast majority of the people on this one.

    She’s also standing up against a barrage of opposition with tremendous dignity and strength and she will only be winning herself buckets of respect with the electorate, irrespective for what the legal intricacies of this are.

    To add to this, the more the DUP attack her, the more nationalists will rally to her and that leaves SF in a bit of a quandary, particularly in South Down. They can continue attacking her and be seen to be siding with the utterly hypocritical, snide and obnoxious attacks from the DUP or they can fall silent and let her steal the show.

    She’s playing a blinder for sure.

  • Red Diesel

    Things are fairly quiet here at POLINT Holywood, mostly just keeping an eye on Slugger and tracing emails, but we got an interesting titbit yesterday from a most unlikely source at Stormont. Seems there was a bit of an altercation around 2:40 PM in a first-floor corridor between an over-excited, finger-wagging senior civil servant and an calm, restrained minister. We are also getting some garbled stuff from SIGINT about archive statements mysteriously disappearing from David Hanson’s website. Incomplete transcripts also refer to legal advice being tampered with. What does it all mean? We just don’t have the right people yet for processing all this.

  • Ian

    “The Head of the Civil Service expressed grave concerns about the legality of her decision.”

    And he’d know all about what’s legal and what’s not, seeing as how he recently misled a senior judicial review [into the appointment of the Interim Victims Commissioner] and somehow managed to get away with it…

  • Bemused

    ‘”The Head of the Civil Service expressed grave concerns about the legality of her decision.”

    And he’d know all about what’s legal and what’s not, seeing as how he recently misled a senior judicial review [into the appointment of the Interim Victims Commissioner] and somehow managed to get away with it…

    Posted by Ian on Oct 17, 2007 @ 06:07 PM’

    Standing ovation Ian.

  • Assemblywoman Long makes an excellent point, that I think strikes at the heart of the entire New Storemont arrangement, and one that has been made continually on Slugger, is that this will not work if the government can’t support itself, and that means the interested parties working together and backing each other up on decisions made and respecting those decisions.